Conan O’Brien says he’s not willing to do The Tonight Show at 12:05 a.m.
By GREG HERNANDEZ
Conan O’Brien said Tuesday he will not host NBC’s ‘The Tonight Show’ if it is moved to 12:05 a.m. to accommodate Jay Leno’s return to late night. He said pushing the show back 30 minutes would “seriously damage what I consider to be the greatest franchise in the history of broadcasting.”
O’Brien had been skewering his network with jokes in his monologue in recent days but his statement – addressed to “People of Earth” – was no laughing matter as he expressed his “enormous personal disappointment” at the prospect of no longer doing a show that he took the reigns of last June following in the footsteps of Leno, Johnny Carson, Jack Paar and Steve Allen.
NBC had announced on Sunday that it would be abandoning its disastrous experiment of moving Leno to prime time each weeknight at 10 p.m. Ratings have been poor for Leno but even worse for O’Brien. Network executives want to schedule a half hour Jay Leno show at 11:35 p.m. followed by “The Tonight Show with O’Brien” at 12:05 a.m. then “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” at 1:05 a.m.
But O’Brien, who was promised ‘Tonight’ during a contract negotiation in 2004, made clear that he want no part of the proposed scenario.
“I grew up watching Johnny Carson every night and the chance to one day sit in that chair has meant everything to me,” he stated. “I worked long and hard to get that opportunity, passed up far more lucrative offers, and since 2004 I have spent literally hundreds of hours thinking of ways to extend the franchise long into the future. It was my mistaken belief that, like my predecessor, I would have the benefit of some time and, just as important, some degree of ratings support from the prime-time schedule. Building a lasting audience at 11:30 is impossible without both.”
O’Brien also makes clear that he is not in discussions with any competing networks at this time. At today’s ABC session of the Television Critics Association press tour, ABC Entertainment Group President Steve McPherson said the network is content with its late night line-up of “Nightline” and Jimmy Kimmel. On Monday, Fox Entertainment President Kevin Reilly said his network has always been open to returning to “the 5-night strip business” but said there have been no negotiations with O’Brien.
“I love Conan personally and professionally,” Reilly said. “But right now he has to make a decision about his future, and until he makes that decision there really is no conversation to be had.”
Here is O’Brien’s complete statement:
On Tuesday afternoon, Conan O’Brien released a statement saying he will not follow Jay Leno with a 12:05 ‘Tonight Show’ out of respect for the ‘Tonight Show’ brand and for Jimmy Fallon. He also takes shots at NBC.
People of Earth:
In the last few days, I’ve been getting a lot of sympathy calls, and I want to start by making it clear that no one should waste a second feeling sorry for me. For 17 years, I’ve been getting paid to do what I love most and, in a world with real problems, I’ve been absurdly lucky. That said, I’ve been suddenly put in a very public predicament and my bosses are demanding an immediate decision.
Six years ago, I signed a contract with NBC to take over The Tonight Show in June of 2009. Like a lot of us, I grew up watching Johnny Carson every night and the chance to one day sit in that chair has meant everything to me. I worked long and hard to get that opportunity, passed up far more lucrative offers, and since 2004 I have spent literally hundreds of hours thinking of ways to extend the franchise long into the future. It was my mistaken belief that, like my predecessor, I would have the benefit of some time and, just as important, some degree of ratings support from the prime-time schedule. Building a lasting audience at 11:30 is impossible without both.
But sadly, we were never given that chance. After only seven months, with my Tonight Show in its infancy, NBC has decided to react to their terrible difficulties in prime-time by making a change in their long-established late night schedule.
Last Thursday, NBC executives told me they intended to move the Tonight Show to 12:05 to accommodate the Jay Leno Show at 11:35. For 60 years the Tonight Show has aired immediately following the late local news. I sincerely believe that delaying the Tonight Show into the next day to accommodate another comedy program will seriously damage what I consider to be the greatest franchise in the history of broadcasting. The Tonight Show at 12:05 simply isn’t the Tonight Show. Also, if I accept this move I will be knocking the Late Night show, which I inherited from David Letterman and passed on to Jimmy Fallon, out of its long-held time slot. That would hurt the other NBC franchise that I love, and it would be unfair to Jimmy.
So it has come to this: I cannot express in words how much I enjoy hosting this program and what an enormous personal disappointment it is for me to consider losing it. My staff and I have worked unbelievably hard and we are very proud of our contribution to the legacy of The Tonight Show. But I cannot participate in what I honestly believe is its destruction. Some people will make the argument that with DVRs and the Internet a time slot doesn’t matter. But with the Tonight Show, I believe nothing could matter more.
There has been speculation about my going to another network but, to set the record straight, I currently have no other offer and honestly have no idea what happens next. My hope is that NBC and I can resolve this quickly so that my staff, crew, and I can do a show we can be proud of, for a company that values our work.
Have a great day and, for the record, I am truly sorry about my hair; it’s always been that way.